Your heart is one of the most amazing pieces of equipment in your body. Second after second, and hour after hour, the heart pushes blood as far as the tips of your fingers and toes AND back again – roughly 100,000 times a day. But, if we continually put additional pressure on the heart, there can be serious consequences.
“There is no one cause for heart disease, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing it,” Bill Stavreski, General Manager of Heart Health, National Heart Foundation of Australia says. “Preventing heart disease starts with knowing your risk factors and making positive changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk. Many heart attacks and strokes can be prevented through healthy behaviours like eating a heart healthy diet, being active and smoke free.”
A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the coronary artery and oxygenated blood can’t reach the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen it quickly begins to fail. The longer the blockage is left untreated, the more the heart muscle is damaged. If the blood flow is not restored quickly, the damage to the heart muscle is permanent.
As with many diseases, there are some risk factors which you simply can’t control. These are:
Age: Heart attacks occur more often in people aged 65 and over.
Sex: There is often a misconception that heart disease affects more men than women, as it can go undetected in women, and more men are admitted to hospital for heart attack. Heart disease can affect both sexes, with the number of deaths from a heart attack roughly the same.
Ethnic background: People of some ethnicities have a higher risk of heart disease than others. These backgrounds include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or people from the Indian sub-continent.
Family history: Your risk may be increased if someone in your family has had a heart attack.
If you have any of these risk factors, then it’s even more important that you take control of your health and do things to lower the risk factors you can change.
Smoking: As well as being a major cause of cancers, stroke and blindness, smoking also increases your likelihood of developing heart disease and having a heart attack. Being smoke-free is one of the best ways to protect your heart.
High blood cholesterol: Cholesterol is the fatty substance within your blood. It can build up and block the arteries, leading to a heart attack. To combat this, it is recommended that you do at least 30-45 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week. Choose healthy foods and avoid those containing high levels of saturated fats such as fatty cuts of meat, high-fat dairy foods and tropical oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter. Your doctor may also prescribe statin medication, which can reduce cholesterol levels.
High blood pressure: You can’t feel whether or not you have high blood pressure, so it’s important to have it tested regularly by your doctor or health practitioner. A blood pressure reading over 139/89mmHg is high and puts excessive strain on the coronary arteries, narrowing them and making it more difficult for the blood to move smoothly and easily through your body.
High blood pressure can be the result of family history, eating patterns (including salty foods and high alcohol intake), excessive weight and not enough physical activity. Improving the food you eat, and increasing your physical activity are two easy ways to manage your blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe you medication to control your blood pressure. However, this will not cure it, and once started is something you may need to continue taking for the rest of your life.
Diabetes: Over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels, and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. Correct management of your diabetes can help prevent a heart attack, but how you manage the disease will depend on the type of diabetes, and your individual needs.
Being overweight: Carrying excessive weight makes you more likely to develop high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Making a commitment to maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing. When losing weight for heart health, your focus should be on healthy eating and exercise. For example, eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, as well as a variety of healthy proteins. Low-fat dairy products, and healthy fat choices with nuts, seeds, avocados and olives are recommended. Try to avoid adding salt to foods, instead add herbs and spices for extra flavour.
Speak with your GP or health practitioner about your heart attack risks. For more information visit the National Heart Foundation of Australia.